In my day, there were no cuddly trannys.
To be out and trans, you had to be quite an iconoclast, someone who could walk through a hail of arrows to claim the right to walk in the world as yourself.
No, I come from the time of prickly transpeople, ones who were so battered and bashed by the abuse designed to drive us into the closet that we were lucky we could still stand up at all.
When I walk into a trans event today, I become really clear that I am still one of the prickly trannys, one of the porcupines who is still too challenging, too iconoclastic to engage.
God made porcupines. And some of us are the porcupines, a bit bristly and sharp. Because we are not cuddly, does that mean we are not made by God?
Calling Is A Bitch, October 2004
I am a porcupine, a shaman, a knife. I know that. I bristle, I x-ray, I cut.
To Love Me, September 2007
I learned to love out transpeople just because they were contrarians, standing tall for the message they heard in their heart against the pounding of a conformist world.
When I shepherded a trans group, the most important thing to me was being open to all, inclusive and expansive. This, frankly, was not and is not the tradition in the interlocking communities around transgender, where things get “cliquey” as affirmed by a gal I mentored when she was a trans kid.
Kate Bornstein asked why transsexuals tended to stay away from other transsexuals. “It’s because we scare the hell out of each other,” she decided.
To me, the power of trans is in seeing beyond comforting and illusory boundaries between us and them and moving to understanding continuous common humanity. That’s why I resisted the imposed separations between crossdressers and transsexuals and drags, between young and old, between those who love men, those who love women, and those who love both, between those who are flamboyant and those who are mild, because I knew it was hearts that counted, not expression.
My view is still a very prickly one. Today, there are even more separations around transgender, based on what organization has chosen to work with transpeople. Transpeople have more choices in where to get support, choices that allow them to avoid having to engage other transpeople who they find too prickly for their own comfort.
Engaging me and my ideas requires others to open their mind and their heart to another version of transgender, one that isn’t to their taste. For me, this requirement is exciting and powerful, allowing me to get a bigger picture than I ever could through my eyes alone, allowing me to get a bigger understanding that extends far beyond the limits of my own experience.
My first request to most new transpeople I meet is simple: “Tell me a story.” I ask that because I really want to understand what they value, what delights or challenges them, how they see this world that we share. One of my foundational skills is the interview, asking questions to help someone tell their stories and explain their views of the world, and while that process may help them, I usually do it because it helps me understand them and understand myself a little more.
If you are pretty sure of where you are and of what you believe, though, asking someone to show you how they see the world is just asking for challenges you would probably rather not engage.
Cuddly is easy, comfortable, warm and similar. Prickly is challenging, exciting, unnerving and different. I always thought trans was about prickly, about that process that supports people in leaving the conventional and bounded to find the essential and potent, that journey that explores the inner map to toss out expectations and find what is truly, deeply and profoundly ourselves.
This isn’t the centre of trans community today. In my experience, many people are looking to tell other people where they got it wrong rather than to embrace the cause of a very personal quest to claim individual identity. Many people are working to find comfortable group identities for belonging rather than bold and unique identities for standing proud. Groups try to teach transpeople the right way to be trans, while in my day, anyone preaching the “one right way” was one of the prickliest transpeople of all.
In my day, there were no cuddly trannys.
And while that didn’t make loving them easy, it sure as hell meant they each had something special and unique to offer.
After all, aren’t porcupines cute?